History of Big Bear
Originally Big Bear Lake was just marsh where the Native American Serrano people came to hunt and gather the abundant pine nuts and acorns for food. Grisly bears were safe from the Serrano who wouldn't kill them because they regarded bears as their ancestors.
Native peoples in this remote area were less affected by changes brought by Europeans. Spanish missionaries brought their religion and foreign illnesses to California; Mexico won the land from Spain in revolution, and finally the USA conquered the Mexicans and made California a state. But probably the first Anglo to set eyes on Big Bear was Benjamin Wilson who traveled through chasing Ute horse thieves but much happier to find grisly bears instead. His men took 11 valuable grisly pelts in one day. In time, agressive hunting would wipe the grislies out.
In 1850 the Southern Pacific Railway had come to the region bringing prospectors looking for gold. In 1860, Bill Holcomb found it, word spread and miners poured in from around the world. Whole towns sprung up in Holcomb Valley, serviced by dance halls, saloons and even a brewery.
After the gold had petered out, businessmen all over Southern California were looking for new ways to make money, and the citrus industry was born. In 1885 Frank Elwood Brown had the bright idea of turning the marsh into a lake to provide water for nearby orange groves. He built a dam on the marsh made from huge granite blocks carved out of the mountainside. Workers cut and placed the rock without power tools or explosives. The lake was a great success, especially since sportsmen soon discovered that lake trout were growing fat feeding on insect life nourished by rotting submerged trees. Even more tourists came to experience wonderful natural hot springs and to luxuriate in resorts being built around Fawnskin and points east.
After road improvements were made it was easier than ever to dash over to Big Bear Lake from Los Angeles. By 1914 cars were regularly arriving, many of them filled with movie stars and movie makers.
Remnants of the past remain: the original dam never cracked by earthquake, the dam keepers home, the old Fawnskin post office, the Pedersen Sawmill. For a more complete overview visit the Big Bear Museum.